COMMUNITY LINES

Women’s Music Festival Defends Decades-Long Stance On Excluding Trans Women

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.46.58 AMThe Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival just wrapped up its 39th year, and not without controversy after enduring a boycott for telling trans women yet again they aren’t welcome at the six day community event.

The Indigo Girls became the latest high-profile protestors. Though they still performed at this year’s event, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers released the following statement on their website:

“We have made it clear that this will be our last time at the Festival until MWMF shows visible and concrete signs of changing their intention. We have no animosity towards anyone in this case but see the deep and fearless legacy that MWMF has had during its existence and we honor that. We also honor the prayerfulness that has been a part of this struggle on both sides.”

And now that the festival is looking towards their milestone 40th anniversary next year, festival founder Lisa Vogel put out a statement on her personal Facebook page to address the policy of only welcoming “womyn born womyn.”

Her statement reads to the effect of “trans women aren’t asked to leave the festival, they’re just asked not to come in the first place,” while maintaining her heartfelt opinion that a space designated for women who had the unique experience of growing up as girls is meaningful at the expense of other experiences. She also notes the importance of having a lesbian-centric space, though she doesn’t mention the fact that trans women can be gay or straight just like everyone else.

Here is her full statement:

1. Get Your Facts Straight

As the 39th Festival closes and we turn our hearts and minds to our landmark 40th anniversary, we reiterate that Michfest recognizes trans womyn as womyn – and they are our sisters. We do not fear their presence among us, a false claim repeatedly made. What we resist – and what we will never stop fighting – is the continued erasure and disrespect for the specific experience of being born and living as female in a patriarchal, misogynist world.

Over 20 years ago, we asked Nancy Burkholder, a trans womon, to leave the Land. That was wrong, and for that, we are sorry. We, alongside the rest of the LGBTQ community, have learned and changed a great deal over our 39-year history. We speak to you now in 2014 after two decades of evolution; an evolution grown from our willingness to stay in hard conversations, just as we do every year around issues of race, ability, class and gender. Since that single incident, Festival organizers have never asked a trans womon to leave the Festival. We have a radical commitment to creating a space where for one week a year, no one’s gender is questioned – it’s one of the most unique and valued aspects of the Festival. The Michfest community has always been populated by womyn who bear the burden of unwanted gender scrutiny every day.

The truth is, trans womyn and trans men attend the Festival, blog about their experiences, and work on crew. Again, it is not the inclusion of trans womyn at Festival that we resist; it is the erasure of the specificity of female experience in the discussion of about the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation. As long as those who boycott and threaten Michfest do not acknowledge the reasons why the space was created in the first place, and has remained vital for four decades, the conversation remains deadlocked.

2. Acknowledge the Validity of Autonomous, Female-Defined Space Michfest is widely known as a predominantly lesbian community.

This does not mean that heterosexual womyn, bisexual womyn, or those who do not share this identity are not present or welcome. But for a week, we collectively experience a lesbian-centered world; we experience what it feels like to be in a community defined by lesbian culture.

3. Acknowledge That Michfest Creates Spaces That Do Not Exist Elsewhere.

This year, thousands of womyn and girls from 3 weeks to 92 years old attended our 39th Festival. This included over 75 deaf womyn who came to rejuvenate and be in community. Nearly 200 womyn with disabilities came into the woods to thrive. At one of the workshops held this year, young womyn stated that until they came to Festival, they had never seen an old gender-non-conforming female in person; they did not know that those womyn existed. We built this space to let these womyn be seen and celebrated. We built this space around the fierce solidarity of female experience that has always been and continues to be deconstructed into invisibility; where that unique experience is relegated to a place of dishonor. Whenever females honor ourselves, wherever we take up space, and sit collectively in the source of our collective power, we are burned and stoned, both literally and metaphorically.

4. Turn Your Energy Towards the Real Enemies of Female and LGBTQ Liberation.

While the abuse and disenfranchisement of womyn and girls escalates around the world and LGBTQ people experience life-threatening harms, LGBTQ organizations have turned inwards on a curious target – a weeklong music festival that does not ban or exclude anyone, that simply seeks to devote its focus to an experience that is denigrated in the larger world: the experience of being born and living as female.
Equality Michigan and the organizations endorsing its petition including HRC, the Task Force, NCLR and the National Black Justice Coalition, are targeting Michfest with McCarthy-era blacklist tactics. Specifically, they have called for attendees and artists to boycott the event, and – astonishingly – have threatened the livelihood of artists and vendors by branding those who participate in the Festival as “having committed anti-transgender discrimination.”

These organizations are targeting artists who perform at Michfest while remaining completely silent when queer-identified artists play at venues that generate profits for racist, transphobic, and homophobic corporate entities and individuals, whose interests are dangerous to the global LGBTQ movement and all basic human rights.
We call on the constituents, donors, and dues-paying members of the LGBTQ institutions targeting Michfest to hold them accountable for this misuse and misdirection of organizational resources, and to withdraw their time and dollars from these organizations until the targeting of Michfest ends. Sisters – we urge you to redirect your money to organizations that speak to your lives and speak for you.

5. Join the Conversation, Not the Digital Sound Bite War.

Our community is strong enough to hold disagreement and to engage deeply with each other, face-to-face, through difficulty. The Michfest community welcomes conversation; we do not stifle it. We have and will continue to remain in community with those trans womyn for whom Michfest has been home; trans womyn like those organizing the New Narratives Conference who do not require females to disappear ourselves or our unique experiences to prove our political and social solidarity.

We turn to our LGBTQ community and say: we hear your truths; we ask you to acknowledge that you hear ours.

Listen to the voices of the tens of thousands of women who call Michfest home. Join the conversation in person in your home communities, not exclusively through social media platforms or online petitions. We invite our sisters to participate in this conversation in person on the Land. Make room in your heart to hold difference of opinion and disagreement – this is the challenging path to honoring true diversity. We turn to our LGBTQ community and ask you to unite with us in the belief that we can work together as a movement and stand together in solidarity. We ask you to work with us, not against us.